Feature – I’ve Been Meaning to Say …

Sometimes the path of least resistance leads to a dead end in officiating. It’s time to say what you need to say. Just make sure you say it the right way.


By the Referee editors

We’re used to practicing restraint in conversations with coaches and players, because saying it like it is could cost us our careers. But should being “safe” in what we say extend to those in and outside the industry who are on our side? So often we want to say something to improve our crew, association and career, but don’t because we’re afraid we might offend someone or don’t know how to say it the proper way.

It’s time to speak up … and we’ll provide you with the guidance to say the right things when it’s time to talk to your partners, crew chiefs, assigners, local and state association leaders and spouse.


1. “You’re not good; you stink.”

As much as you want to and as much as it might be warranted, that’s an example of what not to say. But you should say something. Confronting a partner who is not making the grade is difficult but important. Start by bringing up some positives (there must be a few) in his or her game, and then share some aspects your partner needs to work on and offer positive suggestions on how he or she can improve.

2. “Just shut up.”

Some officials like to talk and they need a reminder to zip it. Cover the topic in your pregame or postgame. Stress the importance of staying focused on the game and the perception problem caused by talking to the nearest coach between every inning or break in the action. It might take video of the game along with your words to really drive the problem home. Seeing is believing and will hopefully lead to golden silence when appropriate.

3. “Stay for the postgame.”

Games can go long, but the partners that “can’t” take an extra five minutes for a postgame talk can drive you crazy. We’ve all got things to do and we want to get home, but a few minutes now could help tremendously in the long run. If your partner is flying out of the locker room as soon as you enter it, unless it is for an emergency, insist that the official stays. Flat out tell your partner he or she needs to stay. And explain why you are insisting. Most officials will stay, possibly grudgingly, but that’s a start.

4. “Lose weight; take a shower.”

If your partner literally cleaned up his or her act and dropped a few pounds, bigger and better assignments would likely be waiting. Sometimes it takes a crewmate who is a close friend to tell the official. It’s easy to ignore issues if no one brings them up. But if you tell your peer the need for improvement, it might be the kick in the pants he or she needs. Before having the talk, you better makes sure your look and hygiene are in order.

Sure, your partner has to want to make a change, but hearing from you that it’s necessary is important. Explain that it’s all part of a professional approach, a little thing that pays dividends toward overall perception. If you’re fat and obviously not in good physical condition, you’ll be perceived as lazy, whether you are or not.

5. “Go to a camp.”

If your crewmate would get it through his or her thick head about the benefits of attending a camp, maybe he or she wouldn’t be whining so much about not getting better assignments. After you attend a camp, share with your partner how much you have learned. Encourage your crewmate to attend with you next time. Highlight the benefits of attending a camp: learning new philosophies and being seen by the people who are in position to give you better assignments.

Tell your peer, “If you can show the clinicians what you can do, you just may get a chance to show them during the season and postseason as well.” That’s a message he or she can’t refuse.

6. “Stop calling in my area.”

When your partner calls in your area, it’s fairly obvious he or she doesn’t trust you or doesn’t know where to be looking. Either way, your partner’s not watching his or her own area.

Show and tell your partner, “I can handle my area and I don’t appreciate getting shown up by you on a play or situation that is there for me to judge. Worse, now I have to explain to the coach standing next to me why I didn’t make that call and you did. You’re not making my job any easier. You don’t have to be Superman out there. Let’s work as a crew to manage this game.”

Speaking your mind is important. Then you must listen. Maybe your partner doesn’t trust you (and for good reason). Earn that trust.

7. “Be on time.”

Talking to your partner about showing up on time will help him or her in the long run. Maybe work commitments are an issue, but by being consistently late or rolling up five to 10 minutes before the game begins, your partner is harming the reputation of the whole crew. Some reasons for promptness to stress include: It offers a chance for a pregame to work on mechanics, crew communication, presence, rules enforcement, etc. That will help your crew to get into a productive mind-set for games.

8. “You’re not a player anymore.”

A lot of former players move toward officiating to be a part of the game. They just need to remember that they’re not playing the game anymore. A reminder that the glory days are over can be important at times. Stress that, as a sports official, he or she needs to act like one and dress like one. Showing up to a game wearing sweatpants, the latest name-brand basketball shoes and a T shirt are no-nos. It’s about the game. A good way to show respect toward it is how you dress while arriving to the event, during the event and afterward.


9. “Get rid of Joe Smith.”

If a crewmate isn’t good enough or capable enough anymore, and your crew chief is keeping the official around when he or she should be gone, it’s important to talk about it. The conversation should be done privately without the other crewmates. Then you have to ask some questions: “Why do you insist on keeping this guy or gal on the crew? I know you two are friends and have worked together a long time, but it’s affecting the crew’s overall performance. Have you talked to him or her about performance or retirement?”

By avoiding the problem, you may prevent an awkward conversation, but your crew’s rankings will likely take a hit. Make clear to the crew chief potential issues with inaction: there’s a good chance others will gradually leave, state tournament assignments will not be in our future, etc.

10. “Relax.”

If a crew chief is on edge, crewmates are likely going to be as well. With so many responsibilities, it’s no wonder some crew chiefs get a little uptight. If something goes wrong, it’s their fault. But if a crew chief is uptight, it’s difficult for the rest of the crew to remain calm and officiate the game. Advising your crew chief to “relax” is important, but along with that should be an offering of assistance from the crew. Maybe officials could volunteer to rotate leading a pregame or postgame discussion.

11. “Be prepared. Have a pregame.”

Some crew chiefs are so relaxed or lackadaisical that they don’t even have a pregame. In that case, you need to ask for one and get the backing from the rest of the crew when you do. Pregames are important, no matter what the level of experience of each member in the crew. Just because you’ve been working together for years doesn’t mean that everything will run like clockwork. Your crew chief needs to be reminded of that. A heads-up on the teams, coaches, game management and everyone’s assignments will go a long way. If a pregame gets old, vary the style/format.

13. “It’s OK to say ‘no’ to games.”

Burnout is real. If you think your crew’s assignments were too much to handle the previous year. Talk to your crew chief as early as possible before the next year’s scheduling and explain that it’s OK to take a break and say no to a few games. In fact, it would be healthy for the crew to have a few more days off. The rest will pay off late in the season.

14. “Get off your high horse.”

We don’t recommend using those words, but getting the message across is important or you and your crewmates may grow to resent your leader. Getting the message across should begin with a positive: “We all know that you’re a good official and that’s a major reason why we selected you to be the crew chief, but understand that it’s not all about you. Put others on the crew up on a pedestal here and there. Positive reinforcement is a good thing, too. As good of an official as you are, you can be even better by adjusting your attitude.”


15. “My schedule sucks.”

If you’re not happy with your schedule, it’s OK to voice some concerns. Saying it “sucks” might give you no schedule at all, which would suck even more. So how do you get the message across without using the wrong words? Ask the supervisor/assigner what you need to do in order to get better or more games? By asking the question, you’re conveying your displeasure with your schedule in a productive way.

16. “Why was he or she on this game?”

Assignments don’t always make sense, but questioning the assigner’s judgment isn’t recommended. If you don’t agree with an official assigned to a game with you, use the methods within the system to question it. Maybe it’s a peer evaluation or maybe you ask the assigner if he or she will review the game video and evaluate your crew. That brings your partner’s faults to the forefront without throwing him or her under the bus.

17. “How about standing up for your officials?”

“You know what that coach did was wrong, but you aren’t doing anything about it. We elected you and you are a member of our board. Why should we have to put up with that from a coach?” Assigners and supervisors should have officials’ backs when tough times arise. In order to expect a lot from them, officials must work with high integrity and professionalism.

18. “Take care of the coaches.”

If it goes beyond one incident and coaches show a pattern of behavior, officials have a responsibility to the game to ask assigners/supervisors to take further action. Tougher sporting behavior requirements are a possible solution. Fair is fair. Tell the assigner, “Don’t ask us to be professional without expecting the same from them.”

19. “Don’t forget where you came from!”

Administrative duties can cause some assigners and supervisors to forget their oncourt and onfield roots. So how do you remind them? You might want to say, “You are one of us … or at least you were! You know our personalities, our good traits and our bad. You know what sets us off. Don’t just sit in your office and schedule games … be an effective champion for us!” A better approach might be to talk to the assigner about a specific issue, asking how he or she would have handled it when officiating. It reminds assigners/supervisors of their background and reintroduces the challenges you’re facing.

21. “Evaluate more!”

Evaluating is another topic that should be brought up by the group. If you and the members of your officials association want the assigner to see and evaluate more games, you should list it as part of his or her formal duties. That gets the message across from the masses and will make more of an impact on the individual. And as a result, the assigner will better see who can really officiate and who can’t.


22. “The meetings are lame.”

It’s obviously boring to have someone read from the rulebook at meetings and most officials associations have moved beyond that. But some local association meetings are indeed boring and lame. If you are not happy with your association’s meetings, it’s OK to voice your concern to leadership. But along with your constructive criticism, you better have some meaningful suggestions on how to engage and challenge membership in another way. Without the ideas, why should anyone listen to you?

23. “It’s the 21st  Century! Use technology.”

One way to instantly boost your local association’s meetings is through the use of technology. Suggest to your leadership that a PowerPoint presentation would add wonders to meetings. Oh, and video plays would make them even better! If you are good with technology, leaders may even solicit your help in preparing some of the multi-media presentations.

24. “Nobody cares about the war stories.”

If meeting presenters are using too much time to regale members about that “one game in Brown County,” it might be time to ask that presentations stay on point and remain focused on education. If leaders want to share their war stories, they can do so after the meeting over a beer (with the few members who haven’t heard them before). The best time to address a long-winded presenter is after the meeting in private. Don’t embarrass your leadership by asking them to zip it during the meeting presentation.

25. “Join NASO en masse.”

If you’re a National Association of Sports Officials member, you know the benefits of membership. Don’t keep those to yourself. Pitch NASO group membership to the leaders in your local association. Group membership allows all the officials in your association to get insurance, educational discounts, MICP consultation and more from NASO through a discounted group membership rate. The details of group membership, available on the NASO website (naso.org) provide leaders what they need to know to join.

26. “I’m leaving for a better association.”

It’s never easy saying goodbye, but sometimes it’s necessary to cut ties with an officials association if it isn’t living up to your expectations and helping to make you a better official. Have the courage to tell your group’s leadership in person that you are leaving for another association. And go the next step. Tell them why. It may hurt or upset the leaders at the moment, but it may actually help them grow in the future.

27. “Give us a voice.”

If association board members are making key directional decisions without the input of the general membership, it’s appropriate for you and others to speak up and ask board members how your voice can be heard. But understand that sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions. With too many different voices, nothing gets accomplished.


29. “Stop using coaches’ ratings (unless they work).”

The fact that most zeros are from coaches that lose and the high scores come from winning coaches should clue state office leaders in on a problem. Coaches often aren’t objective when they’re emotionally invested. But the problem is that studies have shown that officials aren’t very objective when it comes to rating peers either, so there is no easy solution. Ideally you can suggest that assigners, retired officials and administrators evaluate periodically to check accuracy of the scores. Beyond that, ask the state office to throw out the really high and low ratings.

30. “No one does the test by themselves.”

The truth is a lot of officials share answers on rules tests. Painting fellow officials in a bad light to state associations isn’t exactly recommended. But bringing such a problem to the attention of your local leadership to address with the state is appropriate. Suggest that the state office vary the order of the questions or provide other requirements. It will help to weed out those who are taking the easy way out.

31. “Give us some real training.”

Yes, there are some officials who cut corners on tests, but there are many who want to learn as much as possible about officiating. In order to do that, it’s OK to ask state associations to expect more of local associations in their educating roles. Maybe they can require associations to be certified and to provide proper training for officials. On a greater scale, suggest the state office host a state officiating day each year to provide extra education and motivation. State offices won’t know what you want unless you ask for it.

32. “Watch a game.”

In order to know what we’re going through, in order to have a handle on the sportsmanship issues we’re dealing with, in order to understand the professionalism we exhibit day in and night out, state office leaders need to watch some games. State office leaders should watch officials work in various sports once in a while. Inviting a state leader to your next game probably isn’t the way to make an impact, but working through your local association to ask state leaders how often they get to see a game or inviting them to a big rivalry game, might be a way to say what you want to say.

33. “Give us the benefit of the doubt.”

Officials understand that they make mistakes. But whether they make a mistake or not, they are doing their best on the field and court, and they hope and expect the state office to support their efforts. State office personnel should have your back when coaches are “crying” that you lost the game for their team. One call, no matter what time in the game it occurs, is just a call. Teams win and lose games. If your state doesn’t support you like it should, contacting state leaders with the backing of fellow officials is appropriate.


34. “It’s not all fun and games.”

We all know there is more to officiating than getting on the field or court to ply our trade. In order to do the job properly, there is a lot of work to do and not all of it is fun or glamorous.

If all you ever talk about with your spouse is the after-game dinner you have with your crew, instead of the difficult run-ins with the visiting coach, he or she won’t understand the full picture. Share the ups and downs of officiating with your significant other.

35. “Where do you think all the money comes from?”

Seems a bit sarcastic to go over well with any spouse. But reminding him or her how officiating positively impacts the family is important. The more games we work, the more money we make. That money buys steak once in a while instead of hamburger. It means one more night’s stay at the theme park hotel on vacation with the kids. It allows us to set a few extra dollars aside for emergencies, like car repairs or a new furnace.

36. “Officiate with me.”

Talk about killing two birds with one stone. The shortage of officials is addressed and couples get some “us time” by officiating together. Working with a spouse means you have a partner you know and trust. It means double the extra cash flow and a lot of shared experiences to discuss around the dinner table. Be prepared for the answer, though. If your officiating is an escape from work and family issues, bringing your spouse along might not be the brightest idea.

37. “How come I’m always right outside the house but never inside it?”

An official knows in his or her heart when a correct call has been made. While coaches, players and fans may not like the decision, they have to live with it. That doesn’t work away from the court or field, so when a spouse disputes a “call,” it can be more frustrating than when it happens in a game. But if your spouse is the crew chief in your household, you might just have to live with it. It doesn’t hurt to ask the question though (or maybe it will, but it would be worth it to hear your spouse’s answer).

Ahh … deep breath. Doesn’t it feel good to speak your mind? It’s amazing what you can accomplish with the right words.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 10/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – 7 Things You Must Know About Game Contracts

Sports officials use contracts all the time, but do they know what they’re all about? Because officials don’t fit the mold in terms of employer/employee, it is a must to know the essential elements of a contract.


By Alan Goldberger

Game contracts are a part of officiating. Every officiating assignment — at every level — represents a contract or part of a contract. Contracts are the vehicles that bring your game assignments to you. At the end of the day, contracts do more than that — they define an official’s rights and responsibilities.

Just like every sport has ground rules, there are rules that go with game contracts. Officials need to know those rules.

1. What is a Contract?

An old lawyer (older even than me) once said: “In the legal business, when we want somebody to sign something we call it an agreement. When we don’t want them to sign it, we call it a contract.” In truth, there is no difference between the two. The term “contract” simply denotes an agreement between two or more parties that creates legal obligations. So, a contract is really not a piece of paper with writing on it, but a meeting of the minds, marked by an exchange of promises. Sometimes, but not always, contracts are put in writing. Either way, in a game contract, the expectations and the obligations of the assigner and the official come to life: I promise to work the game. You promise to pay me a game fee. If it were only that simple. Now that we know what a contract is, what else do we need to know?

2. The Essential Elements Parts of a Contract.

Contracts have “recitals” and “decretals.” Recitals in contracts are basically the contract’s mission statement: They give some of the background and reasons behind the parties forming their agreement.

Decretals include who does what, including the obligations that we have to officiate, the event, the responsibility of the league, school or organization to pay us, and everything in between. Representations is a fancy word for statements made by the contracting parties: What do you promise to do? What’s your background? Who are you? Who are your partner(s)? What are your credentials or accreditations, which in some states would be licensing and in some states, certification.

Independent contractor descriptors are a good thing to put in the contract to help determine if we’re independent contractors or employees. Can a contract assure that officials, coordinators and assigners are independent contractors? No, but contracts that describe the nature of the assignment sure can help.

If we are the assigning agency, obviously we need to put in the contract at least the following:

• Who’s playing.

• What they are playing.

• Where it is going to happen.

• How much we are going to pay.

• What time we have to get there.

• How many officials will work the game.

• Their positions.

Is it a good idea to include items such as security, parking, the locker room and the site manager? Yes and no. If you are the assigning agency, of course, you don’t want to promise anything you can’t deliver. If you are the official, you’d like to see all those items in your contract. Either way, those are topics that are adequate fodder for officiating contracts.

3. Whose Party is This?

Who are the parties to our game contracts? In the area of game contracts, the nature of the industry tells us we have a big cast of characters. Assigners, leagues and conferences immediately come to mind. In some areas teams engage officials directly or indirectly. At various levels of sport, sponsoring entities, youth programs and other entities will reach out to officials or their associations. And don’t forget that municipalities and other public entities engage officials, as well as officials associations. All of those persons, institutions and organizations could be parties to a contract to officiate.

Often we have officials engaged by one person or entity to work for another. A good example is college conferences will engage referees or umpires who are not working for the conference, rather working for the home school that is required to pay the officials, the contracts so recite.

From the official’s perspective, know who you are working for; often the person assigning the games is not the person who pays the game fees!

4. Creating a Legal Relationship.

Does a contract need to be in writing? Not necessarily, but it definitely helps avoid misunderstandings to have a well-written agreement. How about third-party companies and the electronic method of assigning? Many assignments are made via email and various proprietary software applications. Regardless of the medium — software, email, web-based — or if the contract is parchment, a notepad or on the back of an envelope, all can be evidence of a valid contract.

Regardless of the form, it is what’s in the contract that creates the obligations and rights. In recent years, Internet and email-based game assignments have streamlined the process. At the same time, questions arise. If you are making assignments, what kind of arrangements do you have with the assignment agency? Is the assignment agency also the one facilitating the payment of your game fees? Questions we want to be asking include: Where are the fees parked until the time they actually go out to the officials in the form of a deposit, a debit card or check? If you are on the assigning or hiring end of the contract, make sure that the company you deal with is insuring or segregating those particular funds and that you can get the money back if needed. If you are on the officiating side of the deal, make sure you know who is paying you regardless of whether it’s check, cash, electronic funds transfer or direct deposit.

The legal relationship aspect speaks to whether or not officials are independent contractors or employees. Contrary to public opinion, there is often no black or white answer to that question. Rather, the answer will often depend on a particularized analysis of a number of factors. From the hiring entity’s point of view, if you’re concerned about making officials independent contractors, a key strategy is to educate and train just as much as you can (that’s what we’re about as officials). We want to regulate and control only as much as we need to, but no more.

Our contracts outline who does what as far as working a game and who was assigned by whom and whom that official is working for. Beyond that, the statement that you are an independent contractor because it says so in the contract may work and it may not.

5. Contractual Ground Rules.

Every game has ground rules and that is no different with game contracts. The ground rules obviously have a lot to do with the standard of performance. How do referees and umpires conform to fulfill their contracts?

Woody Allen said, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.” But that’s not quite enough in our line of work. Now, it’s what happens before and after the game that can get us in legal difficulty, in public relations difficulty and in all kinds of difficulty that we need to be concerned with in our contracts. For that reason, game contracts need to deal with the before and after part as well. Therefore, game contracts should incorporate by reference, for example, “a high school basketball game under NFHS rules” or, in some cases, the applicable casebook and the manual. Tell them what rules we are playing by. That really helps a lot. Those are the ground rules of contracts.

No matter the sport, somebody is watching from the time we arrive till the time we drive away with or without the police escort. Pregame and postgame deportment has become an important part of game contracts.

For example, a well-drafted contract could outline pregame and postgame deportment, including proscriptions regarding comments about teams and personalities or actions that detract from the appearance of impartiality that all successful officials must maintain.

6. What If?

In addition to the basics covered, game contracts allocate responsibility when the wheels come off the wagon. How can that possibly happen? Well, what if the game is off? Obviously there are cancellations, everything gets cancelled once in a while, even a wedding or two. Certainly a ballgame, once in a while, gets cancelled. What happens if the game starts, but it doesn’t finish? Environmental factors could have an impact on that, and other reasons like civil insurrection or the officials couldn’t control the game, which might lead to early termination. Lots of things can happen with games that start and don’t finish, like games that start and finish badly or games that don’t start at all.

What happens if the officials don’t show up? What do we do? Do we cover it in our contracts? We should. What happens if the official sends a substitution, but forgets to tell Mr. Assigner or Ms. Commissioner? What do you do in that case? Suppose both coaches do not want a particular referee, even if there were no other officials available on the face of the earth? What happens if we have aberrational conduct where the game is on, but the official is off? Unfortunately, reports of bizarre conduct of officials acting in an antisocial and aberrational manner abound. Sometimes that results in officials being asked to leave by the governing authority. What do you do in those cases? Do you have it covered? Does your contract earn its money?

Officials have administrative responsibilities after the game as well.

Recent NFHS rule changes in most sports specify that the officials’ job is not over until all required reports and correspondence are completed after the game. Therefore, we may still have some work to do after the game, particularly if there were disqualification or worse. That work should be provided for in your game contract.

Social media sites often feature sports officials with photographs posted, some with conference affiliations or officials with high school affiliations who have said, “I worked for Joe Smith at West Dingbat High School last week, and I’m working for him next week, and he’s not going to get away with what that crew let him get away with two weeks ago.” It happens. Officials who inhabit social media sites and talk about personalities are looking for trouble. Many officials don’t think about the consequences of ill-advised digital gossip. That’s why we have to address social media in our contracts.

7. Short-Term Benefits – Long-Term Exposure.

As officials, we are what the retailers and the marketers call seasonal merchandise. The economics of officiating often dictate how many games an official will get, who he or she will work with, and if he or she will have to work with that official again. The official may declare that he or she “deserves a better schedule than that.” Truth be told, whatever contract an assigner offers, officials are likely to sign because they get to work. So, basically, if you’re an assigner, an administrator or an assigning agency, you get to choose your weapon — choose whomever you want to send to the game consistent with your association’s regulations.

Hopefully, you get to cover the game and you get to dictate the terms.

Finally, if your officials are your employees and you are their employer, you may be responsible for the mistakes they make that result in legal liability. The questions that will be asked in many cases: Who hired these guys? What did they do about training them? Don’t you supervise them? Do they often let the game get out of control? In most cases, should litigation arise, the question becomes, “What did they do about supervising?”

Those are some of the key elements that cover the legal landscape of game contracts. While the list is not all-inclusive, an understanding of the basics can help navigate the ground rules of contracts for officials and their assigners.

Alan Goldberger is an attorney and former sports official from Clifton, N.J., who wrote the book Sports Officiating: A Legal Guide.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 12/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

All Sports – Eight Ways to Ruin Your Reputation

As an official all you have is your reputation. Screw it up and say goodbye to assignments and your career. Here are eight sure-fire ways to ruin what you worked so hard for.


By Tom Schreck

1. Be high maintenance. The men and women who assign you to games and evaluate your performance have jobs to do, deadlines to meet and their own series of constituents to answer to. Do you realize that every time you make their lives harder, their days more frustrating and their hours filled with tedium, they’re remembering the source of their anguish?

“Supervisors and assigners are looking for people who are low maintenance. Everyone wants someone they can trust, someone who will be on time and someone who will get the job done,” Randy Wetzel, an NCAA Division I college umpire, says.

Making your supervisors’ lives easier fortifies your reputation while doing things that they find annoying works against it. Get your reports in on time, be punctual, return phone calls and do what needs to be done even when you find it a pain in the neck.

2. Talk too much. Opinions are a lot like backsides — we all have one. Do your best to keep yours to yourself, especially when you’re out in public. Criticizing someone else’s work is tacky and it reveals more about you than it does the subject of your conversation. Officials, athletic directors (ADs) and coaches all travel in the same tight circles so when you let a “Between me and you …” go, know that it is the furthest thing from being just among friends. Follow what your mom said and don’t say anything — especially about another official — if you can’t say something nice.

3. Create problems off-the-field. Remember you’ve chosen to be an official, so don’t pretend you’re not in a visible profession. Yes, your free time is your own but don’t be so naïve as to believe that what you do away from your assignments won’t impact your reputation.

“Like it or not we have great visibility,” Wetzel says. “People know who you are and when you’re out and about how you act will get back to the coaches, ADs and supervisors.”

Those keg stand photos on Facebook, the tweets about making it rain at the dance club and that arrest for public lewdness will affect how people see you between the lines.

4. Fraternize. Hey, we’re all human and we all crave interaction. Our assignments involve a lot of alone time on the road and the conversation with the Marriott clerk just doesn’t always cut it. It is natural to want to chat up folks that you see on a semi-regular basis but remember your responsibility is to oversee a contest in an unbiased fashion.

“We teach that when you enter a gym, survey the area,” says Steve Smith, a high school basketball and soccer referee from Colonie, N.Y. “Note where the coaches are sitting and find another spot. Be careful not to give the appearance of fraternizing.”

High fives and fist bumps with coaches and ADs get noticed and as innocent as they can be, they get interpreted.

5. Look terrible. Certainly by now you know to keep your uniform in such a way as to communicate your professionalism. It extends off the field and court too, you know. Showing up to your assignment with your ripped concert T shirt and flip flops may make you feel hip, but don’t expect folks not to gossip about your sartorial statement.

“We tell our guys when they walk into a venue to look professional and once you put stripes on you are in charge so it is important to not look like an unmade bed,” Smith says.

Everything you do communicates something. Make sure it’s communicating professionalism.

6. Don’t treat people right. Whether it’s the ballboy showing you to the broom closest that will double as your dressing room, the waitress at the restaurant where you’re getting your pregame meal or the new official working his or her first assignment, no one appreciates mistreatment. Using “Please,” “Thank you” and “Excuse me” goes a long way and their absence goes even further in people’s memories.

“If you’re a jerk to people onsite, that’ll get back to people. You know sometimes at the D-III level, you’re changing in a bathroom and it’s not the ideal environment, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to be rude to people,” Rick Mansur, a Division I basketball referee from Marlboro, Mass., says.

The golden rule is accepted universally and not using it will get you remembered for all the wrong reasons.

7. Be all about the money. Every official somewhere along their career got short-changed on mileage, a hotel room or a fair night’s pay because of the unlucky dealing of some cards. We all have to write the checks for clinics and associations every year and we all know the realities of today’s economy. We’re all in the same boat and very few of us are getting rich officiating. Cherry picking assignments or complaining about paying dues is classless and it will cost you more than the amount you write on your check.

8. Be arrogant and unapproachable. The games aren’t about us; they’re about the players, coaches and institutions involved. Emotions run hot and high and sometimes people need to vent about what’s going on. Let them.

“When I came up, it used to be the less you talked the better. Today they want officials who are approachable and coach friendly,” Mansur says. “More and more communication has become crucial and being standoffish is unacceptable.”

Doing the Mount Rushmore act when someone wants to talk something over is just arrogant. Hear them out, be flesh and blood and be about building relationships, not about being the one who was right.

Tom Schreck is a writer and a professional boxing judge with the World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 4/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – Five Minutes with Lauren Holtkamp

Holtkamp’s transition from D-League to NBA.


Residence: Atlanta
Experience: Officiating since 2004, Holtkamp is in her first season as a full-time NBA referee; worked in NBA D-league for the last seven years and the WNBA for four seasons, including the 2013 and 2014 NBA D-League Finals and 2014 WNBA conference finals; previously worked in multiple collegiate conferences and various FIBA competitions, including the 2010 World University Games and the 2012 and 2013 FIBA Americas Championships.

REFEREE: What was your background prior to officiating.

HOLTKAMP: I started officiating when I was in graduate school, so I had played at Drury University in Springfield, Mo. When I was finished playing I started refereeing with a local high school association, and started out with middle school games in the area, and took off from there.

I played four years at Drury University, a Division II school. We were a startup women’s program my first year there in 2000 and I was part of it to 2004. We made it to the national championship in 2004. So within four years of starting the women’s program there, we were competing for a national championship.


REFEREE: What did you study as an undergraduate and in graduate school?

HOLTKAMP: I was a business administration undergrad, and then stayed at Drury and got a master of arts in communication. I then got a master of divinity at Emory University.


REFEREE: How does a master’s degree in divinity play into what you do today?

HOLTKAMP: That’s a really big question. Part of my schooling included serving as a chaplain in several different environments — at a women’s prison, and a mental health facility, and at a hospital. Some of that work was about being present with people in the midst of a crisis and offering spiritual practices for people to move through really intense crisis moments in their lives. I don’t think refereeing is a crisis moment by any means, it’s a very good thing, but I think that I have learned through some of those practices how to regulate emotion and sort of mentally focus through meditation and things.


REFEREE: What hobbies do you have outside of officiating?

HOLTKAMP: I love to read, fitness, and I’m really an outdoor recreation person. In the summer I’m biking, hiking, anything that will get me outside. I’ve recently started working on some artwork on my own.


REFEREE: While working FIBA, NBA D-League, NCAA, etc., and trying to get into the NBA, how did you keep all those different rule sets in check?

HOLTKAMP: Offseason was a really important time to study the different sets of rules in depth, so I would do this both individually and with study groups in the Atlanta area. During the season I used a study tool that a group of us put together that highlighted the differences between NCAA rules, D-League rules, and NBA rules.

I also had the same study sheet for NCAA and the WNBA in the summer. Then in addition to that study resource I also would prepare individual sheets. An individual sheet would be like D-League rules and points of emphasis for that year that I would need to be focused on, and then I would have that for NCAA.

It was really important for me to compartmentalize when it came to the rules. On a day that I would be working an NCAA game I would study NCAA rules and I would talk NCAA rules with other referees. Then on the days that I would have D-League games I would focus just on my D-League rules and talk D-League rules with referees and get in that rulebook.

A lot of the in-depth preparation happens in the offseason, and then by the time I would get into the season it was sort of about remaining fresh about the stuff that I had learned in the offseason. I did that with individual study sheets and really just compartmentalizing so that my time leading up to that game would be focused on that set of rules that I was using.


REFEREE: You made a decision to forgo a high profile college schedule to make the full leap to a full-time NBA referee. What went into that decision?

HOLTKAMP: I got hired in the D-League and I knew that it was going to be outstanding training. I knew at the time regardless of where I landed in the scheme of refereeing that I would be a better referee for being part of the D-League and getting that training. It was after my second season in the D-League and I’d been hired in the WNBA for the upcoming summer. I knew at that point that I wanted to continue in the system and I wanted to work my way toward being a candidate for being hired in the NBA. I just knew that I wanted to maximize that opportunity and to work at the highest level that I possibly could. I ended up being in the D-League for six years before being hired in the NBA. Early on in the program I knew that I wanted to work toward being hired in the NBA.


REFEREE: What is your schedule like now in the NBA?

HOLTKAMP: I do work some D-League games. Every month it’s common to have between one and three D-League games on my schedule, and then the rest are NBA games. It’s funny, when I was coming up people would always ask me, how many games in a month do you work, and I would say, I don’t know, I just work the games they give me. I would say at this point in my career I would work between 10 and 14 games a month, and one to three of them are D-League games.


REFEREE: Do you prepare any differently now when you have back-to-back games?

HOLTKAMP: I think part of the professionalism piece of this is learning how to take care of myself on the road. That’s something that I’ve been learning from Day One in the D-League and then through my four years in the WNBA. It’s sort of an ongoing process of how to find a way to maintain my fitness level, get study time in, break down tape, and all of that, but also balance that with making sure that I’m eating well, that I’m getting enough rest, and also maintaining the social connections that all of us as human beings need.

I’m just continuing to learn how to tweak that and find a good balance for myself so that when I step on the floor I’ve got the energy, and the mental focus, and the clarity, I’m feeling happy, I’m feeling good. The better I’m feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally, the more expansive my awareness is on the floor and the better decisions I make.

Really, the good work on the floor certainly starts off the floor with my routine and how I’m taking care of myself. I’m always learning from referees on staff who have been around a lot longer and have a lot more experience of different ways to do that. And it’s conversations that we have on staff about how to do that for ourselves so we’re always as professionally sharp as we can be.


REFEREE: What have you learned early on in your full-time career as an NBA official?

HOLTKAMP: In the early stages of my career as a full-time NBA referee I’ve learned that it’s necessary to continue to practice the fundamentals of positioning and play-calling every single game. That’s not something that we’ve ever really mastered, so every time I’m breaking down tape I’m still looking at the fundamentals of positioning and my play-calling and decision-making. As important as it is to be constantly doing that, I’ve also learned that it’s essential to practice mental conditioning. It’s an important part of the work also.

I’ve been learning from others on staff and from our professional development program that we’re doing staff-wide in the NBA how to use correct self-talk during the game to stay focused and be prepared for the next play, how to regulate my emotions in high-stress situations, choose effective verbal and non-verbal communication with players and coaches, and then practicing resilience so that both accomplishments and mistakes become learning tools.

My first year I’m really learning how important it is to have both the skill set of the fundamentals of positioning and play-calling, and then the mental conditioning. They go hand in hand.


REFEREE: What would you say is the number-one thing a younger amateur official can focus on now to get better?

HOLTKAMP: I would say the skill of honest self-assessment. By that I mean being constructively critical of their own work in a way that would push that official to be better in positioning, play-calling, rules knowledge, but also recognizing the good things that she or he is doing. Honest self-assessment includes both constructive criticism and sort of a celebration of what that official is doing well.

I always include both when I do tape breakdown, what am I doing well, and what do I need to continue to work on to get better, and tape work is the best way to do that. Also, for an amateur referee I would recommend having somebody do that tape work with that has more experience than you, and is fundamentally sound at whatever level with mechanics and things like that.


REFEREE: Officiating can be sometimes overwhelmingly negative. Is it important to keep a balance?

HOLTKAMP: Absolutely. As much positive reinforcement that you can give yourself, I think it helps buoy you for the constructive criticism as well. If I know that as the lead the timing of my rotations is fundamentally sound, then I can build on that. Because I’ve identified that that’s good, then I need to be patient on plays to the basket, I can build on my solid foundation of rotations that I’m doing, and build on that to say, OK, I’m doing that well, now the next step is to let a play start to develop and finish and be patient on a play to the basket, and judge illegal versus marginal contact.

It can be overwhelmingly negative, but I think it’s really important to find that balance, because you’re going to build on the things that you do well to continue to get better on the things that you need to get better at.


REFEREE: What do you like the most about being an NBA official?

HOLTKAMP: I love the environment of learning. On staff, from people who are veteran officials all the way down to our first-year referees, everybody is always striving for excellence and wanting to get better all the time. That is really exciting to be part of that striving for excellence that we’ve got.


REFEREE: What can you do without as an NBA official?

HOLTKAMP: I would say probably the most taxing part of the experience is the travel. That has been true at any level that I’ve refereed, the travel experience. It’s necessary, but I want to continue to find ways to care for myself through the travel, through all the flights that we take, and the early mornings, and all of that.


REFEREE: What is one piece of advice you wish you had when you first decided to go all in on your journey to becoming a professional referee?

HOLTKAMP: I wish that I had learned sooner how to be kind to myself in this process, because that’s really important. Being kind to myself in the process and recognizing that it is a process. In my first year as an NBA referee it would be unrealistic to expect to have the skill or the experience or the ability even of a referee who’s been on staff for 20 years and has seen the plays and been through the game scenarios and things like that.

When I was talking earlier about sort of celebrating the things that I do well as well as being constructively critical of the things that I know I need to continue to get better at, I just wish that I had learned about that balance earlier, and sort of how to be kind to myself in the process.

But I’ve got it now. I understand it now, and I think that any young referee that I would work with I would just want to really reinforce that for them. As important as it is to find ways to be better and strive for excellence, it’s also important to pat yourself on the back and be your own biggest fan.


REFEREE: How important has having mentors been for you early on in your career?

HOLTKAMP: Incredibly important. I really believe that you can learn something from every single person that you work with. Some people have a really deep well of experience that they can share, and some people maybe have less based on where they’re at in their career. I think that you can learn from everybody that you work with all the time, and from yourself all the time as well.

But mentors, every step of the way, have been incredibly crucial for me, and I just so much appreciate the people who have shared what they know and helped me continue to improve and enjoy this work. That’s part of it, too.

Mentorship I think is about honing skills and getting better, and it’s also about camaraderie and a connection with the people that you’re working with so that you’re not out there feeling like you’re doing it alone, because you’re not, and you can’t do it alone. It takes all of us together to do it.


REFEREE: What does being a referee mean to you?

HOLTKAMP: I think this would resonate with any referee, just how fortunate we are to do this work. It’s an incredible job, and it’s such a fantastic thing to be part of. I feel really fortunate to be part of a community of people doing this exciting and challenging work, and we’re in it together. I’m talking all levels of referees and I think it’s really great. I think it’s really cool.

(This column stemmed from an interview published in the 5/15 issue of Referee magazine.)


Referee Magazine(This column stemmed from an interview published in the 5/15 issue of Referee Magazine.)

April 2015 Officiating In Perspective with Barry Mano

Robust Self-Belief

Referee magazine Publisher Barry Mano shares his thoughts — taken from his publisher’s memo in the April 2015 edition — on the Holy Grail in the collective endeavor of officiating.

Publishers-Memo-Robust Self-Belief

Publisher’s Memo – Robust Self-Belief – Referee Magazine – April 2015


Download Publisher’s Memo – Robust Self-Belief – Referee Magazine – April 2015 PDF

All Sports – Whatcha Talkin’ About?

Interaction With Players Can Be Productive


By Dave Simon

Questions officials face in contests include: How and when do you interact with players? Do you nip brewing bad behavior in the bud? Do you warn the player who is lingering in the lane? Do you say nothing when the guard grabs the jersey of the onrushing defensive tackle? If you let fouls or violations go the first time, what do you do the second or third time it happens?

Conversely, is it a good idea to praise a good play or positive behavior?

The issue of when to teach, prevent, warn or praise a player may seem more relevant to the contact sports like soccer, football and basketball. But there are certainly situations in baseball, volleyball, softball or others as well.

Early in my basketball officiating career, I had an interesting situation in the Washington, D.C., area. I had the ninth grade boys’ championship game for the Catholic League, some high level basketball for that age group. I was in my second or third year, and my partner, though he had officiated in Wisconsin before moving to D.C., had a similar level of experience. We were skating on our own.

As the game progressed, whining from the players increased to a crescendo. I didn’t know what to do, having never faced that situation. My partner was in the same boat and was deferring to my seniority.

Whether I did the right thing is something to be debated. I wouldn’t recommend it. But here is what we did, and how it affected the game.Early on, when kids complained about calls, I’d talk to them and let them know we’d keep an eye on the plays that bothered them. It was a physical game and we were consistent in letting them play, but it appeared they wanted to whine more than play. By the middle of the third quarter, I’d had enough.

I brought both captains and my partner to mid-court, then read the captains the riot act at the top of my voice, so the coaches (who were also complaining) and parents (ditto) could hear every word in the suddenly silent gym.

My rant went something like this: “We’ve listened enough. Next peep is a technical, regardless of who we hear it from. You got it?” The captains nodded. “Now go tell all your teammates and your coach.” They did. Several parents applauded. I remember parents yelling to their kids, “You listen to that referee and just play ball.”

I don’t advocate that method, but it was an eye-opening experience and speaks to the role we play on the court or field. The result of my extremely loud lecture was that we didn’t hear a word the rest of the game and the kids played at the highest level possible. The last 10-12 minutes was some of the best basketball I ever experienced officiating the sport, and I went on to work 12 years at the collegiate level.

What’s the takeaway? First, there is no golden rule when to send a message to a player. You can take a moment to speak to someone during a timeout, between innings or as they’re heading back to the huddle. What you must do is get their attention. A good rule of thumb is talk to them earlier rather than later. It’s just like parenting: Let them (verbally) know the parameters, then enforce.

At younger-age levels, a warning might not be appropriate. There are more teachable moments working 10-year-olds than there are with 14-year-olds. It’s up to you and your partner to decide when to send a teaching message to a player rather than meting out rulebook-sanctioned discipline, and a lot depends on the level and age of play.

I happened to bump into the home high school athletic director (AD) near the end of a bitter rivalry game while living in Columbus, Neb. It was a spectacular game, played intensely. During a timeout near the end of the game, I quickly told the AD what a joy it was to officiate.

On Monday, I got a call from the opposing AD (who lost), accusing me of having the home AD as a good buddy (I barely knew his name), and threatening to blackball me. I gave him the state supervisor’s information and told him to go ahead and let him know, but the takeaway is that someone is always watching, so watch who you talk to, and how you come across.

Praising falls into a similar category. There’s nothing wrong with praising a nine-year-old who just hit a home run. Do that in a high school game and when the opposing coach hears about it, you’re in trouble. You’ll never hear the end of it.

Don’t confuse that with complimenting players for doing something positive like helping to quiet down a noisy teammate, helping an opponent off the ground or retrieving an errant game ball. That sort of communication is encouraged and is often reciprocated.

Even with the older kids, there are times to praise and teach. You just need to be more subtle. Sometimes it’s best to let everyone in on it: “This is a heckuva game, let’s keep it up, guys.”

Teach and praise with the younger kids. Warn and prevent with the older ones. Where you choose to make that line of demarcation is key.

Feel out each game. Know the participants and environment. Is it recreation ball or for the middle school championship? You can teach and praise more in a seventh grade recreational league game than in the game for the conference championship.

Know the difference and choose your words carefully.

Dave Simon, Grapevine, Texas, is a freelance writer and former high school and college basketball official.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 4/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

All Sports – No Hurry, No Worry

Let the Whole Play Happen Before You Call It


By Todd Korth

Sports officials must understand the game they are working or they’re in for a heap of headaches, right? An official must know everything possible about the rules involved, the tendencies of both teams and his or her partner’s capabilities in order to do the best job possible, right?

That’s all true, but that’s not all. With each play it is important for you to know what may likely happen, use the accepted mechanics and always try to be in the best position for the best angle and wait for the play or action to end. And then make the call.

That may seem like a lengthy process, but it happens in a flash. To be ready is to mentally prepare or anticipate an action before making a final decision — call or no-call, foul or no foul, violation or no violation.

Anticipating the play before making the call is one of the best officiating mind-sets to remember. If you can “feel” what’s coming and adjust your position or your visual focus to the right area, you’ll see the play better and have a great opportunity to make the right call. If you decide what you’re going to see before you see it happen, you will get burned.

Good baseball and softball umpires quickly recognize when a team is in a bunt or steal situation. Football officials can sense a running or passing play for a first down or touchdown. Top basketball referees know when a team will probably use full-court pressure or change defenses to attack an opponent. Alert soccer officials know who will likely receive the ball on a corner kick when a player runs from the other end of field into the mixer, and they can anticipate screening and pushing from the opponent. All of that helps officials to anticipate the play, not the call. In that process, apply timing, one attribute that separates average officials from very good ones, and withhold your call until the play is over or the time is right.

In baseball or softball, a runner will be no more or less out or safe if you wait until all action is over. If the shortstop throws the ball to the first baseman, who catches it long before the batter-runner arrives at the base, wait a fraction of a second. There is always a chance that the first baseman will drop the ball or pull his or her foot off of the bag, which may be just enough time for the batter-runner to be safe. In basketball, observe a player attempting a shot and the defender attempting to block the shot before calling a foul. Quick whistles by officials have often negated some great blocked shots, only to ignite players, coaches and fans with anger and frustration. Stay with the play until it’s over and get it right.

Former players turned officials often have an advantage in anticipating a play. As long as you have a feel for what play is coming and adjust your positioning accordingly, you will see the play better. As a result, you’ll get it right more often.

One area of anticipation that can prevent a game from disintegrating fast is when something unsportsmanlike has happened that might lead to retaliation by the offended team. For example, if a player hits a home run and taunts the opposing team while running the bases, be aware of that team retaliating in some way. That could be a knockdown pitch at the next batter or intentionally throwing at the player who taunted them the next time he or she is up to bat.

In some other sports, if a player is fouled hard, he or she may retaliate quickly with a hard foul out of frustration.

By anticipating any type of retaliation, an official can sometimes nip an ugly situation in the bud by warning the other team or player not to engage in that kind of behavior, if there is time. If that doesn’t forestall the expected retaliation, at least you will be in a state of mind to issue warnings immediately in an attempt to calm down what, unchecked, could become an ugly situation.

Whether it’s anticipating a play or situation or just knowing a team’s tendencies, the game will slow down for you that much more. In turn, that kind of officiating mind-set will improve your ability to be in position at the right time and ready to make the right call.

Todd Korth is a Referee associate editor and multi-sport high school and college official.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 5/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Frenemies

Coaches can be our friends and enemies. How do we manage to have a more effective relationship with our counterparts on the field and court?


By Tim Sloan

was working a boys’ basketball game a few years back and the home team was getting shelled. They couldn’t shoot, pass, handle the ball or defend. By the third quarter, the margin was 30 points and I was standing in front of their coach, with whom I had a decent relationship.

“I’m telling you, Sloan — you mark my words: Next game, I’m only dressing seven players,” he promised.

“Really?” I responded, beginning a scan of the floor to pick out who he might have in mind.

“Yep. The rest will just have to start dressing themselves from now on.”

Now, that was a fellow who I’d seen chew up and spit out officials in the past. I’m not suggesting I have some kind of gift with coaches. There are others who snoot me out and seem to be buddies with some of my confreres. I often think about why that is and how to have more successful relationships with coaches. And in some places, like in Iowa, there’s more to gain from understanding because it’s a “recommendation” state: Coaches name officials whom they would like to see reffing playoff games. They aren’t asked why, only who. There are some officials who gel with some coaches and, statistically, the ones who get along get further ahead. What’s their secret?

Recently I asked a former coach, who is an assigner, to sum up what related refereeing to recommendations. He said it came down to general personality — a sense for the coaches and officials being in it together — and consistency of calls. That’s a short list, but the Holy Grail to most. We all strive for consistency, but the esprit de corps thing surprised me. How can we be in it together when our job is to do what’s best for the game and the coaches’ is to do what’s best for the team?

It’s all about relationships, and how you get by with coaches is a big part of that. I’m not saying graduating, cum laude, from Referee Charm School is a prerequisite for success; officials who overtly pander to coaches seldom get far. But learning how to empathize is important. When you understand how coaches think, it’s easier to know what annoys them or makes them comfortable with you. That’s all well and good. But it often contrasts with our style as officials: We call games a certain way and have standards, which mesh well with some coaches’ outlooks, but not others. With all that, there’s still a great middle ground, where accepting that there are some forces at work and then working proactively in response makes for more success as an official.

Let’s understand some basic things about coaches at the high school level. First, most are teachers. Next, few I’ve run into didn’t consider the job to be fulfillment of a significant ambition: They’re doing it because they want to and, with rare exceptions, were selected. Third, they work in school systems that pander to society’s demand for winners. Fourth, they are under demand to put time into their efforts to produce a competitive product against the resistance of family, profession, the limitations of players and their own stamina. Fifth (choose one), they either feel the love or the noose tightening. Finally, every one of them handles the pressure of success or failure differently.

My wife just handed me a coffee as I was typing and remarked, “Hmm: So, getting along with coaches is just like being married. … Are you going to be able to cut the lawn today?”

She is right! Some marriages click: The spouses are so alike they naturally interact in a way that is smooth and largely non-confrontational. For others, it takes work and the pair learns what annoys/enamors the other. They decide that some issues are better overlooked. And then there are The Honeymooners, who disagree on everything. Few enter marriage because they look forward to a life of discord. More likely, they lack the skills to manage conflict.

By that rationale, many good relationships with coaches might be accidental. That is, we don’t all comprehend that many relationships take work to work. If a coach and official see the game-related things the same way, few bad things happen. So, where I tend to reward teams that have good skills and can avoid violations, coaches who emphasize the same get along with me. If they coach aggressive play in the paint while I jump post players who sit on each other’s laps, we have a problem. One of us has to give in if the relationship is to be smoother. That creates a crisis, where two facts apply: We need the coaches more than they need us. The two of us have conflicting pressures: The coach (hopefully) likes his or her job and has some need to behave, train and mentor. And I have a binder of memos from the state admonishing me to be alert to, and penalize, various behaviors. So, how do we do our jobs and have more effective relationships with coaches?

Accept that the majority will never see everything the same way you do: It shouldn’t be surprising that many coaches will carry on more than you think is acceptable. It’s not about you! Not everything sung to us in burps requires a response. The best officials keep the peace with coaches by reacting to the message and not the delivery until the delivery interrupts the game.

Accept that it helps to give a little when the conflict is insignificant: Sense when coaches are trying to be sensible about a bad situation and you need to tag along: Team A has travelled 41 times by halftime and appears unable to help it. Team B has driven 60 miles through the snow and is growing tired of rehearsing their inbound plays. It hopes to be home by midnight. Think about relaxing your standard a little and serving the teams. Work with the coaches to become part of a solution. Heresy, I know, but many coaches respect that over rigid consistency; in that regard, you can all be in it together.

Accept that your style needs to be flexible: Some crews develop reputations for being the threesome-of-choice for certain games: If the last meeting was contentious, send this crew because they’ll clean it up. For the rest of us, the game is what it is: It’s played by two teams with strengths and weaknesses and, if it makes for a fair game, let them set their tone. Take charge to avert conflict, not create it.

The best officials advance not by being the best rules people, the best athletes or the most committed, although those are important. They get there by being the most successful. They take each game as it comes and respond to what they see.

Tim Sloan lives in Davenport, Iowa. He’s a former football and soccer college official who now works high school football, basketball and volleyball.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 3/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – The Unwritten Rules

Every official knows the importance of the rules of the game. Regardless of sport, there are some unwritten rules you should follow as well.


By the Referee editors


1. When you “think” you saw something, YOU DIDN’T.

There are times you will be focused on action in your coverage area but something on the farthest edge of your peripheral vision will draw your attention. “Gee whiz,” you’ll say to yourself. “That looked like a foul, but I didn’t see the whole thing. My gut says it was a foul. Better safe than sorry. I’m gonna call it.”

Missing a call is never a positive thing. But most assigners, coordinators and observers will tell you that failing to call something that did occur is more acceptable than calling something you aren’t absolutely positive happened.

Gut feeling is a valuable officiating tool. Many times your instincts will guide you in the right direction. But your eyes trump all. See what you call and call only what you see. Period.

2. The CAPTAIN is not always the team leader.

For whatever reason, the so-called team leader or “captain” can sometimes be anything but a player that will help you to defuse a situation and respond positively with other players during a game. That player can often be the one causing problems for you and others.

When that’s the case, make every effort to demote that captain. Tell the coach that you need another player to serve as captain because the current captain isn’t doing his or her job. Or tell the captain that he or she will no longer be serving as the leader for his or her team for that game because of his or her actions.

Just because a player attends a captains’ meeting before the game doesn’t mean that he or she will be the player with the best sportsmanship.

3. Keep the game MOVING.

There are few officials who want to be on the field or court for a really long game.

However, there are some games that are just going to be longer than others. That football game that features two teams that throw the ball on every down and have porous defenses can result in a 63-60 shootout that legitimately takes every bit of three hours to finish.

What is not acceptable is for officials to be the cause of a game going long. Do everything possible to make a dead ball live again or to get the clock running as soon as possible.

That doesn’t mean neglecting important duties or rushing teams. It does mean being efficient with recording substitutions or enforcing penalties, hustling to your next position and getting the next play started or the next pitch thrown.

4. Provide COURTESY to players when it’s needed.

While an official should strive to keep the game moving, there are times when you need to it slow down. A baseball or softball catcher works extremely hard during a game and that hard work generally keeps you from getting hit.

So when you see him or her get hit and in pain (but not enough to bring out the certified athletic trainer), take some extra time — dust off a clean plate or walk the ball out to the pitcher.

Buy that catcher a few minutes and, in turn, he or she will probably appreciate it and work even harder for you the rest of the game.

The same thing can sometimes apply to other sports when tensions get high. Take a moment to put the ball in play and use that time to give a friendly reminder as opposed to a premature penalty. When you feel the situation has had a moment to calm down, blow the whistle and get the game moving.

5. Give a LONGER LEASH to those in charge.

Maybe more important is the flip side of this rule: Those who aren’t in charge don’t get a long leash. Yes, you should listen to head coaches and managers who give their thoughts to you about a call or situation — as long as they don’t cross the line. Communication, including listening to perceived grievances, is part of game management.

But assistant coaches, players and other bench personnel should not be given the same patience or privilege. Unsportsmanlike talk and actions by those individuals need to be addressed right away. If warranted, you can give head coaches a chance to take care of other game participants. But if they don’t take care of business, you need to step up and penalize appropriately.

There has to be some form of hierarchy of tolerance. And head coaches are at the top. Use preventive officiating whenever you can and tolerate a bit more from them. Work with them until their behavior becomes a distraction.

6. Give the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT to those who have earned respect.

There will be times — probably in every game — when you get questioned on a decision you made or a penalty you called. How you respond to that question should be determined in part by how you are asked.

Think about the ranting, raving head coach. Anything that doesn’t go exactly how he or she wants, and the blame is pointed toward you or your crewmates. You are to blame for his or her team’s woes. Now think about the coach who worries about his or her team throughout the game but doesn’t get upset at you when penalties are reported. Instead, that coach focuses on “coaching” his or her players.

In a tight moment, both coaches question a call. The coach who doesn’t go ballistic on every call deserves a more thorough response than the lunatic. It is as simple as that.

Because it is so out of character for that calmer head coach to question a call, maybe he or she saw something that didn’t make sense or was done wrong by the rule. Taking the time to acknowledge the concern or clarify a ruling is time well-spent. The ranter may have seen the same thing, but doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt since that coach has been on your case about everything.

7. Look COACHES in the eye.

Police will tell you that suspects who lower or turn their heads when providing alibis are withholding information. It is difficult to obfuscate when you are looking someone right in the eye.

Whether you are introducing yourself to the coach before the game or answering his or her question during the course of play, communication should be done face to face and straight on. Even if you are delivering bad news, you will have more credibility and gain more respect by looking the coach in the eye.

Understand that advice applies only when the ball is dead, such as during a timeout or other intermission. If you need to communicate with the coach during play, keep your eyes on the action and wait for action to cease.

8. WHEN IN DOUBT, do what is expected.

An official takes on the task of applying mainly descriptive rules to fluid situations, but there are times in games when that official may not be immediately certain what action to take after observing a play or an incident. Rulebooks will spell out the intent and guiding principles of the rules and the better officials figure out how to apply them equitably, in context. But there are times when an official faces doubt at the moment he or she is expected to make a call or no-call. When that happens, it’s best to do what is expected.

Does it appear that a player sustained a possible concussion even though he or she does not have a loss of consciousness after a play? If there is any doubt, it is best to take that player out of the game to get checked. Should a baseball or softball umpire call a borderline pitch a ball or strike? It is expected that the umpire follow through by calling that pitch a strike. A basketball referee may have doubt when two players collide and go flying to the floor. Block or charge? Rule one or the other.

In any event, do not try to run away from the play or shrug your shoulders. You’ll lose credibility fast.

Officials will never be 100 percent sure of what they see 100 percent of the time. That’s not humanly possible. In those gray-area moments when a call is necessary, do what is expected and make the call or ruling with a clear conscience.

9. Answer QUESTIONS, not statements.

“That’s a bad call.” “That was a interference.” “He pushed him.”

What do all those comments have in common? Ding, ding. You’re correct if you answered, “They are statements that coaches say/yell/shout, etc.”

Coaches say a lot to officials during a game. And much of what they have to say, whether it is a valid point or not, does not need a response. Statements don’t need an answer from officials. Often the only time you need to respond to a statement is when you are delivering a warning or a penalty for one that crosses the line.

What deserves a respectful response when time permits is a legitimate question. Officials can save themselves a lot of headaches and heartburn by answering only what is asked.

10. Don’t answer the questioyou  don’t have INFORMATION about.

You don’t need to answer every question, though. That most often relates to a coach asking a question about a play called by a crewmember. If you don’t know what happened, don’t guess. If you don’t have information, tell the coach you’ll find out for him or her at halftime or suggest the coach talk to your partner. Whatever you do, make sure you are supportive of your partner.

Sometimes a coach or player may ask you about a rule or situation that you are not sure about. If you don’t have the knowledge or information you need, don’t guess at the answer. You’ll lose all credibility if you answer the question wrong. Instead, seek assistance from a partner or find out the answer after the game and get back to the coach. Then vow to study the rules more, so that you can answer that question that might come up in the future.

11. Get the game going after a MISTAKE or EJECTION.

Sure, ejections and mistakes are a big deal. But it is the responsibility of officials to make sure they don’t become a huge deal and negatively impact a game.

When your game has a situation, such as an ejection or a rule controversy, the best thing you can do is to get the next pitch thrown or the next play started. Once game action resumes, players, coaches and fans will typically worry about that action and forget about the situation that caused the problem in the first place.

While participants will be forced to move on when action resumes, officials should keep the mistake/ejection in the back of their mind. Don’t dwell on what happened but keep in mind that it could lead to future issues. Managing the game by making sure your presence is felt even more after ejections for fighting, for example, is a good way to prevent future problems.

12. CREW TALKS should lean toward official with angle or experience.

Because coverage areas sometimes overlap, there are going to be situations in which more than one official has a call. What happens when you’re the other official and those calls conflict? If you are in the role of ultimate decision-maker, which way do you go?

To begin, the officials involved must express certainty. If either indicates doubt, go with the other crewmember. “I think” is not acceptable. There is a difference between calls and opinions.

If neither backs down, consider the angle or proximity to the play. Was one official significantly closer than the other? Was one straightlined? Position and distance are key considerations.

If you’re still at an impasse, lean toward the more experienced official who has likely seen that play more often and knows how best to cover it.

13. Be 100 percent sure if makinthe UNEXPECTED CALL.

Several years ago, a baseball state championship turned on a base umpire’s call. With two out, a player whose double seemingly drove in the winning run was called out for missing first base. The run was nullified, the inning ended and that team wound up losing the title.

The coach argued, but within the bounds of sportsmanship, asking the umpire if he was certain. “I am positive,” the umpire said. “I would never make that call unless I was absolutely sure.”

Afterward, the coach acknowledged the umpire. “He’s a good umpire,” the coach said. “If he was that sure, he must have seen it.”

It’s never a good idea to enforce an arcane rule just to let everyone know that you know the book. But if it needs to be called, sell it and be prepared to back it up with confidence. The more unusual the situation, the more sure you must be.

14. Don’t insert yourself or disrupt GAME RHYTHM if it’s not necessary.

Back off. If you’re an official — no matter the sport — and you somehow don’t feel “in the game” because little if anything to rule on has occurred in your coverage area, back off. Don’t be that official with a quick whistle or flag, looking for something, any kind of violation or penalty, to make it look like you’re “in the game.” Back off. It’s better for you, the crew and the game.

Many officials think they aren’t doing their job if they don’t enforce the rules, especially if they haven’t been heard from early in a game or an extended period of time during the game. It will be an uncomfortable situation for many, but the better officials know when to stay out of the way and call only what needs to be called. Under no circumstances should an official ignore fouls that involve safety of the players, but being too quick to insert yourself when you don’t need to will result in too many flags or whistles for minor violations or for phantom violations that are better handled with preventive officiating.

Making a call or ruling can be very straightforward and easy. But withholding a flag or whistle in a situation that is close but doesn’t warrant you to stop the game takes discipline and confidence. At some point the game will need you and when it does, be ready. In the meantime, back off.

15. Let the PLAYERS help you make the call.

Generally, players are not award-winning actors. And as you go down from the professional level, to college, to high school and eventually to sub-varsity, the acting skills are dramatically worse.

One of the toughest calls to get right in baseball or softball is the high-and-tight pitch that may have hit the bat or the hand first. Read the batter’s reaction: If the batter immediately screams, “Ouch!” and drops the bat, there’s a pretty good chance it hit his or her hand. But if the batter doesn’t react as the ball rolls into fair territory, in all likelihood, it’s a fair ball. Read the reaction of the player and use that to provide you the additional information to make a correct call.

If a player hustles to save a ball from going out of bounds, even if you didn’t see which player it touched last, you have an indication of the right call.

In this age of flopping and diving, the “rule” is a little tougher, but reading players’ initial reaction to many plays will often still help you when you need it.

16. When a game is obviously over, CONCENTRATION needs to be stronger.

In most any sport, there are games that are decided early on, sometimes in the first quarter or early innings. It’s about that time when teams will start going through the motions, if they haven’t already, and that makes it easy for officials to do the same.

Thoughts of home, work, meetings or your next game can easily grab your attention instead of the game in front of you. That’s the time to increase your focus as much as possible. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by anything. Focus on the game and use it as an opportunity to improve.

A blowout situation offers officials the perfect time to work on certain mechanics or habits or to experiment.

Above all, don’t physically quit on the game. Continue to hustle even though you may have the urge to loaf. Apply personal pride, vanity or your competitive streak. Draw upon any inner strength or collection of emotions or memories to stay in the game. Do anything necessary to keep your focus and not let up.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 6/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – I’m Working With Who?

By The Referee Editors

Officiating is never boring, especially when it comes to those we officiate with. Good officials can adjust to their partners … no matter who they are.


Partners and crewmates come in all different shapes, sizes and personalities. There are a lot of good ones out there, but then there are others who will try your patience and test your ability to officiate nice, because their “offenses” are pretty bad. You probably have or will run across all of them during your career. … Hopefully it’s not because you’re seeing one in the mirror.

In life and officiating, you can’t always choose who you work with. So you have to deal with it. Since we’ve run across our share of unique officials working games in various sports, we’ll pass along some sure-fire counterattack plans you can apply if Grouchy Greg or Clyde the Clown walks into your locker room before a game.

Dominator Dan

Dominator-Dan--This guy is part control freak, part loudmouth and part overconfident. He dominates the pregame with partners, dominates in the pregame meeting with coaches and, of course, makes every effort to insert himself and dominate in the game.

If there is a problem in the game, even if Dan is remotely a part of the problem, he will “come to the rescue” whether welcomed or not and, in his eyes, save the day. Dan’s listening, but he really isn’t. He’ll do it his way always.


Do what you can to get a few words in during your pregame. Even if Dan doesn’t end up really listening, it’s important to at least try to get through to him. Conduct yourself in a professional manner, even if Dan doesn’t get the concept. It’s OK to let him have control, as long as he isn’t doing anything wrong. If he does and the rules permit a correction, it’s your responsibility to step up and play superhero, whether Dan likes to share the spotlight or not.

Techie Ted

Techie-TedHe is an enthusiast who is highly proficient about the technical field and how it relates to officiating. Ted’s smart phone has all the officiating information he needs to receive assignments, view video, take tests, study and communicate with other officials and assigners. That is all great. The problem is he is on his device all the time, checking email, texting and searching the Internet. He says he’s listening during the pregame and postgame, but it’s hard to tell because the latest text message from a friend or family members has his attention as well.


A partner with the latest in officiating technology is a positive. Use that technology as part of your pregame, showing video or utilizing a pregame board. If you’re not using technology in your pregame, make the extra effort to engage Ted more in the discussion. It doesn’t hurt to flat out ask him to put the device away. There may be some withdrawal shaking at first, but eventually Ted will be OK, and your prep for the game will be a lot better.


Give-Me-My-Paycheck Peter

Give-Me-My-Paycheck-PeterPay me now or pay me now, preferably in cash. In Peter’s world, there really is no good reason why a school or organization doesn’t show him the money the moment he pulls into the parking lot. And if the game administrator doesn’t have a check ready and waiting, Peter will politely joke (but not really) how it sure would be nice to have received a check on game day, then ask when he can expect to receive the check.

For Peter, getting his hands on the check is seemingly more important than the game itself. His passion for collecting checks and cash on game days often supersedes his ambition to officiate.


There is nothing wrong with officiating to earn money, but a passion for the game and exhibiting professionalism for those surrounding the game are also important. Asking Peter why he started officiating might help to bring him back to the love of the game that probably got him into the avocation to start with.

Sal the Slob

Sal-the-SlobYou walk into the locker room with your neatly packed roller bag. You shined your shoes twice last night. Your pants are pressed. You even took the time to iron a crease into the sleeve of your striped shirt. You’ve heard it before — perception is reality. You’re controlling the things you can control; you’re really looking the part! As you begin to unfold your meticulous uniform, your partner barrels through the door in one big dust cloud.

“Hey there, name’s Sal!” bellows your partner as he extends his mustard stained hand. Sal looks frazzled at best. His hair is a mess, his dirty shirt is partly tucked in and it’s obvious his holey and untied shoes have seen one too many Guns N’ Roses concerts. Absolutely zero attention has been paid to his unkempt appearance and it quickly becomes evident that he does not care one bit. He unzips his bag and pulls out a balled-up shirt that looks like it hasn’t been washed since opening day, three years ago.


We might be embarrassed working with Sal, or be embarrassed for him. Part of being a (successful) sports official means taking pride in one’s appearance. Being a good partner might mean casually speaking up in the locker room before the game. “You know Sal, I’ve learned that my shirt best stays tucked in when I tuck it in my tights.” Unfortunately, having to take the floor with Sal can give a negative first impression of the entire crew. Expect it, and plan to work that much harder to gain respect.


Grouchy Greg

Grouchy-Greg“Can you believe they gave him the championship game this year!? I can’t believe it, it’s all soooo political! I guess I gotta kiss more butt.”

Ahh, the always-exasperated Greg has entered the building. Some people see the glass as half-full, some see it as half-empty; Greg sees the glass as all-angry. The sun may be shining outside, but it is always miserable in Greg’s world. “I don’t know about you but I can’t stand this coach, he’s a real piece of work.” Greg’s partners often aren’t exempt from his wrath either. “Why do you guys go to those clinics anyway, you don’t learn a darn thing from those knuckleheads!”

From the weather being too cold, to the game check not sitting next to the water bottle and towel as you enter the locker room, Greg will always have that negative attitude: “All right, let’s get out there and get this thing over with.” For everything wrong in Greg’s world, someone else is always to blame. Heaven forbid it is ever his own fault.


Kill him with kindness. For every angry and negative comment, reply with something positive. Don’t stoop to Greg’s level; that just gives him more ammunition. Nothing can wear you out quicker than the guy who is negative 24/7. Our officiating careers (and life in general) are too short to be mad all the time. Ask Greg why he officiates? If everything is so awful and bad and wrong, ask him why he continues to do it if it makes him so miserable? Maybe you’ll finally hear something positive come out of his mouth.

Just-in-Time Terry

Just-in-Time-TerryEverything is last-minute for Terry. She’s the one who shows up 15 minutes prior to a game, even though she isn’t coming from work. Because you don’t want to walk on the field without her, you are taking the field late, making coaches wonder if you are even there.

If there’s paperwork to be filed, Terry’s waiting to the last minute as well. And then when her email system is down or she can’t find a fax machine or scanner that works, it’s your fault that her form isn’t in. And you are expected to understand that the world has to work on Terry’s time — Terry is a very important and very busy person and without her, things just wouldn’t be as good.


As long as everyone continues to cater to Terry, then Terry will never change. Deadlines must be enforced. Late arrivals must be pointed out to assigners. And even most drastically, go to the field at the right time, and let Terry be late. You can’t let Terry drag you down.

The first time Terry doesn’t get a playoff game because she inadvertently didn’t get the test taken on time, she’ll learn the importance of meeting the deadline. And when enough partners call the assigner or report back on an evaluation that she was late to the site and isn’t doing a proper pregame, it will start to hurt her schedule.

Everyone runs late every once in a while. But if Terry’s always behind and always pushing things to the very last minute, it’s going to look very bad for her eventually. Be proactive and don’t let Terry dictate your schedule or the way you do things.

Captain Obvious Orv

Captain-Obvious-OrvOrv oversells everything and must be seen doing it. The over-the-shoulder out pump when the play wasn’t close. The dramatic long whistle followed by the over-exuberant touchdown signal when everyone knows it was a score. Or the screaming of “FOUL BALL!” when it flies quickly over the fence behind the plate and into the parking lot.

Orv makes it a point of explaining even the most basic calls to players, coaches and even fans. He wants to make sure everyone knows that he knows what he knows and that he saw what he saw. Of course, then when Orv has to really sell a call, his credibility is in question because he can’t do anything more dramatic than he did for the super obvious calls.


Find someone that Orv looks up to and get that person to mentor Orv. Have Orv watch how officials at the higher levels and respected officials at his level use other techniques to command a game. Orv is probably a pretty good official who just hasn’t been shown or doesn’t realize the harm he is doing to himself by overselling the obvious calls.

Big-timer Bob

Big-Timer-BobBob isn’t shy about relating his experiences to people, selling himself based on the levels he’s worked, not his actual ability. In a meeting of high school officials, he’s not afraid to tell people, “This is how I do it when I work a college game.” Or, “This is how we did it when I worked with that professional official.”

Bob is also known to cite the experiences of his friends. “My buddy Larry told me that his crew in the college conference does it this way.”

Bob thinks the levels he’s worked means that he should get automatic respect at the lower levels and that his ways are always the best.


Put Bob in his place. Respectfully stand up to him and let him know that what is important is how we do it at our level and the proper rules, mechanics and philosophies for our level.

If your association has too many Bobs, it can fracture the association. People will want to do it Bob’s way, or worse yet, will want to adopt their own “higher level” mechanics. Soon, there will be no consistency in the way games in your association are called.

Long-for-the-Good-Ol’-Days Larry

Long-for-the-Good-Ol-Days-LarryRemember when gas was 50 cents a gallon? When a portable communication device was two tin cans and a length of string? When the games lasted only an hour and 15 minutes and the coaches never complained about the calls?

Larry does, and he reminds you over and over. And over.

He not only regales you with tales of how games used to be officiated, he actually employs those outdated mechanics and philosophies. Rulebooks? He don’t need no stinkin’ rulebooks! One of his favorite questions is, “When did they change that rule?”


For heaven’s sake, don’t enable Larry by asking him to elaborate on any of his stories. If he’s holding court before you hit the court, try to bring him back to the here and now by getting him involved in the pregame discussion. If it’s halftime or after the game, direct the conversation to situations that occurred today.


Clyde the Clown

Clyde-the-ClownAs you watch both teams warm up, you can’t help but notice your partner Clyde down by the baseline. What the heck is he doing? Clyde is going through an elaborate (and very attention seeking) stretching routine. All of his jumps, twists and turns would make any yoga instructor proud. You shake your head as Clyde yuks it up with players and fans alike. Once the game starts, Clyde’s act doesn’t stop. His foul calls are theatrical and any time he blows his whistle you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next. Give this guy a red nose and some oversized shoes and you’ve got a real-life clown on your hands.

Working with Clyde can start out as comical and lighthearted, but it can quickly become too much. Clyde is often someone that’s been around awhile — and he has a reputation. Fans laugh at him, coaches tolerate him and partners shake their heads.   


When you work with Clyde, it’s best to stick to your game. Don’t change the way you officiate because you’re working with an amateur comedian. Go out and work hard like you always do. Clyde’s antics will eventually catch up with him. You should enjoy officiating, but don’t become a sideshow; just stay focused on the task at hand.

Invisible Ike

Invisible-IkeIke shows up for the game on time, looks the part of a solid official and says all the right things in the pregame. You have confidence going into a contest with him, but when it’s game time and the pressure is on, Ike is nowhere to be found. Where’s Ike?

When there is a crash and a call could go either way, but there should be something, Ike will often no-call it. When a coach is bashing you from the other side of the field or court right in front of Ike, you won’t be able to count on him for backing or for penalties. Ike likes to get through a game with as little controversy as possible by making as few decisions as possible. Ike follows the wrong thinking that “the best officiated games are the ones in which you don’t know the officials are there.”


Ike is a dangerous partner to deal with because he often won’t have your back. Plan on having to step up more during a game. You don’t want to overstep your coverage responsibilities, but at times, you may have to if it’s warranted. Encourage Ike to step up when it’s needed. Go over the importance of having a presence at halftime or after the game. The best officiating games are the ones that are actually officiated. Lead by example and call what needs to be called.


Wanna-Be Willy

Wanna-Be-WillyMany are called to officiating. Few are chosen for the upper levels. Willy isn’t one of them, but that doesn’t stop him from dressing or acting the part.

To Willy, the approved signals and mechanics aren’t nearly as good as the ones the pros or college officials use. So he goes off the book and does it like the “big boys” do. The manual says white or blue beanbags. But Willy sports the black version used by college officials because he wants to draw attention to himself. The state has a “clean shirt” policy. Willy wears numbers on his sleeve so people will think he’s taking a busman’s holiday from the semi-pro league to work the youth contest.


When Willy is on your crew, let him know in advance he needs to bring the proper uniform and equipment, and that his nonsense will not be tolerated. Bring some extra equipment in case he “forgets,” so the crew can go out looking proper.

Fake-Hustle Harry

Fake-Hustle-HarryMaybe instead of Harry, we should call him Hurry or Harried. That’s because this guy moves like Jell-O in an earthquake. Problem is, all that energy is expended whether or not he’s covering plays. Someone watching Harry gets exhausted as he sprints to his between-innings spot in the outfield after the third out is made, flies from the goalline to his position on a kickoff (never bothering to slow down or stop to clean up the sideline along the way) or imitates Usain Bolt while doing the dreaded (and incorrect) long switch.


Not every Harry understands subtlety, so you may have to (figuratively) hit them over the head when you explain that he is hustling at the wrong times. False hustle is like yelling: If you do it all the time, people won’t be able to tell when you mean it. Harry needs to understand that.

Lackadaisical Len

Lackadaisical-LenThis character is cool as a cucumber when the heat is on. Or off. Also during the pregame. In fact, sometimes you want to shake him to make sure he’s still awake. Nothing fazes Len. He’s happy to let his partner or crewmates handle anything that may come up during the game. He just wants his check and a quick finish so he can get on with his life.


The remedy would seem to be a swift kick in the slats, but even if it weren’t wrong, it wouldn’t help anyway. Asking Len questions or soliciting his advice will get him involved in the pregame. Engaging him in quick conversations (“How’s my strike zone?” “Did you get a look at the block in the back I called during that kickoff return?” “Is it time for me to give a red card to number 10 if she pops off again?”) when appropriate during breaks in the action may light his fire.

Cocky Carl

Cocky-CarlConfidence in your officiating abilities is important, but Carl goes beyond confidence. If he is your partner, expect to hear about a great call or two or three that he made in previous games. Expect to hear that the game ahead should be no problem. And with all that talking, expect that having a proper pregame may be difficult. If fact, Carl may not think it is necessary. Many games at the high school level may actually be beneath him. So going through the motions with little focus or energy is something you will regularly see.

You might be a decent official, but Carl will likely know more than you and you can expect to hear his expertise offered in full following the game. There is no need to repay the critique, though. Carl won’t think it’s necessary.


Fight cockiness with humbleness and patience. There are some who can and should put Carl in his place (supervisors, coordinators, etc.), but you don’t need to be one of them. Try to do the right thing by pushing for a pregame and listening to Carl’s advice after the game. Present yourself in a friendly way to coaches and players, so the cockiness that Carl exudes is not reflective of the whole crew. Work hard no matter what the level or score, because Carl likely won’t.

Sam the Schmooze

Sam-the-SchmoozeCoaches, players, supervisors, officials, you name it, Sam will schmooze them. He knows the coaches’ names and nicknames, and probably even their kids’ names. Sam has the gift of gab and he’s not afraid to use it to further himself in a game or his career. Unfortunately the schmoozing doesn’t endear Sam to his fellow officials, because they can see right through it. By chatting up the coaches or complimenting the players after good plays, Sam often presents the crew in a bad light. While he’s an equal-opportunity schmoozer, a particular team often doesn’t see it that way and the objectivity of the officials can be called into question.


Sam is mostly harmless. If you’re his partner or crewmate, you just need to keep an eye on him and stress the importance of not talking to players and coaches too much during a contest. Sam should have a short leash. If you’re the one he’s complimenting, understand the source and don’t let your head get too big.

Gotta-Go Gabby

Gotta-Go-GabbyThere are very few postgame meetings that Gabby can’t weasel her way out of. She can’t stick around, because she has to go to a wedding or a funeral or her husband’s birthday dinner, etc. … You get the idea. Gabby likes officiating games, she likes working with the kids, exercising and getting her paychecks, but getting better is not all that important to her and it shows.


If Gabby is on your regular crew, make the postgame meetings mandatory. No excuses. If you just happen to have Gabby as your partner once in a while, it might be tough to counter the excuses. The best you may be able to do is try to talk her into at least a short postgame. Whether your partner stays or not, you should at least mentally review your game or watch video later, if available. Make sure improvement is important to you.

Maybe some of your partners look pretty good right now. … Or maybe not. At least you’re armed with some sure-fire ways to handle the bad ones.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 8/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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